For years, response agencies have argued that family planning isn’t as critical as other life-saving services, and that it is more appropriate in long-term development programs. And yet, the need for family planning and reproductive health services is particularly acute in disaster-affected and post-conflict settings.
In these environments, health systems may have collapsed, families and communities may be dispersed, health workers and supplies may be scarce, and rape and sexual violence are common.
Many adolescents take part in risky sexual behaviour, and sometimes women engage in prostitution or exchange sex for food in order to survive.
Cut off from their regular source of reproductive health services and contraceptive supplies, and thrust into conditions hostile to pregnancy and childbirth, women are more likely to turn to unsafe abortion when facing unplanned pregnancy.
The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 25 to 50 per cent of maternal deaths in refugee settings are due to complications of unsafe abortion.
Family planning empowers women and men to make choices about if and when they have children, and how many children they would have. Providing this service in times of emergencies is critical because people don’t stop having sex, but they do lose access to family planning services.
At any given point in time, four per cent of women of reproductive age are pregnant. In the case of the Pakistan floods where 20 million people were affected, this meant that around 800,000 women required sexual and reproductive health services.
Globally 15 per cent of pregnancies will result in a life-threatening complication, and the risks for such complications are compounded in places that have been hit by conflict or disaster. To help prevent unplanned pregnancies and to reduce unsafe abortions and maternal deaths, it is the responsibility of humanitarian aid agencies like CARE Australia to ensure sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, access to emergency contraception and support for survivors of sexual violence, are integrated into the response program.
In the past five years CARE has responded to 123 natural and conflict-related emergencies, and has been working to reach women in disaster and conflict-related settings with much-needed family planning and reproductive health services for several decades.
The Minimal Initial Service Package (MISP) checklist for Reproductive Health spells out what health care professionals should do to ensure that women’s and girls’ needs are recognised and addressed from the very onset of a humanitarian emergency.
The MISP outlines both the necessary equipment and the actions that trained staff should undertake during the early days of a crisis, which saves lives and prevents illness especially among women and girls when implemented.
In recognition of the importance of family planning and reproductive health in both our development and humanitarian work, CARE has strengthened its commitment to sexual, reproductive and maternal health as one of our four top priorities along with food, shelter and water.
The groundbreaking London Summit on Family Planning generates the political and financial support required from governments, donors and the private sector to consistently provide family planning services, thereby saving lives, empowering women, and enabling healthier and wealthier families.
Now we must channel the momentum of the summit into ensuring family planning solutions address the sexual and reproductive health of women in emergencies and conflict settings.
Aid dollars should first and foremost be guided by saving lives and fighting poverty, not by changeable political agendas. We need to ensure funding for family planning is detached from politics, so that humanitarian agencies have the consistent financial support they require to save lives.
Read CARE Australia’s Top 10 Tips for global family planning.
Lara Franzen is the Humanitarian and Emergency Response Advisor for CARE Australia.
Image Sources: http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/reducing-global-population-pressures_1.jpg and CARE Australia.